San Francisco Church Strengthens Marriages and Helps Hurting Couples

Programs Support God’s Plan for Matrimony


SAN FRANCISCO — San Francisco Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone considers supporting couples in the sacrament of matrimony a high priority.

"The Church, and the Archdiocese of San Francisco in particular, seeks to fulfill the need of supporting and strengthening couples in marriage and family by teaching and forming them in their faith through retreats, seminars and ongoing programs which provide information and formation for engaged and married couples," the archbishop told the Register.

Top priorities for the archdiocese are strengthening and standardizing its diverse marriage-preparation programs in English and Spanish, further developing natural family planning (NFP) education and training, and introducing marriage-enrichment opportunities, such as a parish couples program that has been successful in the nearby Oakland, Calif., Diocese. Among other goals are ministering to those who are separated and divorced.


Culture of Support

As part of efforts to promote God’s plan for marriage by establishing more parish-based programs, creators of a nationally recognized marriage support and enrichment ministry called Covenant of Love (COL) will give talks and retreats in San Francisco and other Bay Area parishes.

"Many parishes lack ongoing marriage-enrichment programs, which nurture a culture of support for married couples," according to Archbishop Cordileone. "We want to help men and women deepen their understanding of their own marriages — and look forward to actively assisting all married couples in this growth here in the Archdiocese of San Francisco."

Ed Hopfner, who headed the Oakland Diocese’s marriage and family life department under then-Bishop Cordileone, is now working in San Francisco. In Oakland, Hopfner placed special emphasis on marriage preparation, enrichment and education programs, priorities he brings to San Francisco as the archdiocese’s first marriage and family life director hired in 10 years.

"We need to educate people, but we also need to strengthen marriages — to offer resources for marriages that are struggling or to prevent them from struggling; to strengthen them and help them to flourish," he explained.


Have a ‘Date Night’

While in Oakland, Hopfner encouraged the introduction of COL, which was created by Greg and Julie Alexander of San Antonio. Now, he is working to bring it to San Francisco. One of COL’s parish-led programs called "Date Night" brings couples together to focus on issues including understanding God’s plan for marriage, communication, forgiveness and healing, chastity and prayer.

Parishes need the tools to provide marriage support and enrichment, Greg Alexander said. "Typically, with the exception of Marriage Encounter, the Church never offers anything else for marriage enrichment; so here couples are, trying to live this lifelong marriage relationship, never having any additional resources or tools to be able to do that," he said.

Scott and Julie Genung helped found a COL program at their parish, St. Michael, in Livermore, Calif., last year, with the goal of inspiring couples to have God-centered marriages, Scott Genung said.

The parish didn’t have a marriage ministry before this, Julie Genung said. "We see the need to have a ministry that does appeal to marriage," she said. "That’s the heart of our faith."

Fifteen couples — from the newly married to those married many years — have attended Date Night meetings at St. Joseph Basilica in Alameda, Calif., and the five-couple core team that organizes the program hopes to encourage nearby parishes to get involved.

"The most important thing in my life on this earth right now is my marriage," said core team member Rob Call, who is committed to strengthening his marriage with his wife, Michelle. "I want to give attention to that and get support from the Church and my community."


Help for Difficult Situations

On Feb. 28, the Holy Father spoke of the need to help couples who are hurting from failed marriages: "How beautiful love is, how beautiful marriage is, how beautiful the family is, how beautiful this journey is — and how much love we too [must have], how close we must be to our brothers and sisters who in life have had the misfortune of a failure in love."

Supporting the separated and divorced would be easier if parishes had programs for married couples, Hopfner said.

Ultimately, supporting marriage is also about caring for and nurturing children, according to Archbishop Cordileone: "The challenge is one of rebuilding and restoring a marriage culture, which begins — and certainly doesn’t end — with preserving the principle that children deserve a mother and a father and that society should do everything it can, and offer all necessary support, to help ensure that children get what they deserve."

Susan Klemond writes from

St. Paul, Minnesota.